Individual Growth and Development
The Faculty as Change Agents program sought to support faculty Change Agents' growth as instructors and leaders so that they could have a greater impact on their students and in their programs, departments, institutions, and regional networks.
I started teaching at the 2YC level in 2013, coming from a research institution background, with post-doc training in science education with a focus on conceptual learning in the geosciences. A strong message from other faculty that stuck with me during my hiring and early in my tenure was that I was not here to teach geology majors, that I needed to support students in meeting their goals. I internalized this message as reflecting two non-overlapping teaching goals: support the students I have or support the minority of future scientists among them. I also have been carrying around a belief that I am a "failed" scientist, as I do not have a traditional academic position in my area of expertise, something that was widely seen as the only measure of success among my cohort and mentors. It has definitely been a process, but I do not hold these beliefs anymore. Perhaps I was already on my way towards moving away from those limiting ideas, but I'm not sure I would have gotten there without being involved in the SAGE 2YC project.
This may seem only to be a personal revelation or growth, but I see it as fundamentally freeing me to be a better teacher. I am empowered to work to support the whole student, provide greater opportunities for students to feel connected to science, and support students' connections to others in their courses and at their college. I tend towards perfectionism (or is it that I have a "growth mindset" about teaching? probably both!) so I tend to never be really satisfied with my own teaching. However, I'm starting to see payoffs in terms of student success on several measures, including truly developing a community in my classes, individual students showing greater mastery of concepts and connections over time, more students showing greater mastery from semester to semester, and more former students enrolling in additional courses I teach. I also find that strategies promoting success for students not planning to pursue careers in science also work well for supporting learning of all students. For example, I have found activities that support a validating classroom such as developing and using Scientist Spotlights with a wide variety of scientists allows students to personally reflect on being a scientist and doing science, something that most other course activities don't do well, and supporting the view that scientific practice is something open to and done by a diversity of people. More regular monitoring of student progress (through in-class clicker questions, think-pair-shares, problem-solving activities with peer discussion, reflective questions on lab assignments, student goal-setting worksheets, short individual meetings with students) has helped me adjust instruction and provide targeted support, as well as supporting student self-regulation.
As a result of my work with SAGE 2YC, I have changed two major areas of teaching to improve learning in my classes. The first change I have made is with laboratory assignments. After discussions with faculty from chemistry department I modified my labs to include some demonstrable results that may impact freshwater ecosystems. We wanted to focus on regional environmental issues and one was the acidification of freshwater environments. Since we live in a state surrounded by the Great Lakes this seems a reasonable approach. So I have my students measure the effects of elevated CO2 in freshwater environments. A second result of work with the program is changing my approach to students in the area of data management. It is easy to get students to go out and sample streams and soil but what do they do with the information they gather? This has been a struggle for me in the past. I've developed a more focused approach to get students to understand the meaning of their research. I have transitioned from a formal laboratory report format to engaging them in focused questions. I had to ask myself what I really wanted them to be able to do once finished with the lab and data analysis. This approach involves asking questions that make them think directly about their data and what it means (interpreting the data) rather than how they might write a proper paper, which many of my students are very good at doing, however I needed to guide them in a slightly different direction. I am continuing to modify and revise these techniques. The next step I'd like to make is have them look at examples of scientific writing and see how data interpretation is done at the professional level, very much like they are doing when answering their lab questions. I think that overall the program has helped me to see my students differently and to work with them more meaningfully. The SAGE 2YC program has provided me with some concrete tools to continue to improve teaching and learning. My hope is that this will help encourage students, especially those that do not see themselves as traditional scientists, to understand concepts better and by understanding perhaps become interested in geosciences and environmental sciences. This may have program implications, hopefully, increasing enrollment in our Environmental Technology program.